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Friday, February 2nd, 2018


State: More fish imports due to rise in consumption

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The government has linked increased fish consumption to rising importation of the commodity.

Outgoing Fisheries PS Micheni Ntiba who has been moved to University Education and Research docket said fish eating has increased in the last nine years.

“In 2009, a person ate an average of one kilogramme of fish annually,” he said.

“But in a few years this has grown to 4.5kg per person per year meaning that more Kenyans are now looking for fish as food than was before which has created a big gap in the market,” said Prof Ntiba.

He said there is a huge fish gap vis-a-vis the consumption level. He said if the country does not produce enough fish it will continue to buy from outside.

“Fish is a commodity for trade. Nationally we produce about 130, 000 metric tonnes of fish. We are not importing so much fish. We are only importing 37, 000 metric tonnes but we expect that the country should produce fish,” he said.
His remarks comes three days after Industrialisation and Enterprise Development CS Adan Mohamed defended fish imports from China, saying the country only imports to fill the gap in supply.

Mr Mohamed said fish from China has been flooding the Kenyan market because the country does not produce enough fish to satisfy demand. But traders have complained that cheap fish imports are ruining their business.

Prof Ntiba said there is need for the country to be involved in aquaculture to address the shortage.

“We have discussed with the importance of having investment in the sea particularly to exploit unexploited resources in the Indian Ocean,” he said.

He added that aquaculture will enable the country to have new fish and in the short term it will be able to give the country more than 100,000 tonnes annually.

He said: “In the medium time moving forward we will be having over 470,000 metric tonnes and in the longer term we are seeing that the aquaculture both on land and in the sea will give the country over one million metric tonnes of fish per year.”

He said the government has put in place measures that will see foreign fishermen lawfully restricted from entering the Kenyan sea borders.

“We have already completed the construction of fisheries control and surveillance centre in Liwatoni.

“We have put a lot of resources in surveillance, monitoring and patrol to ensure that those who come to fish in our sea go through our port so we benefit,” he said.

Government should end storm threatening to kill tea industry

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With incessant resistance to mechanisation of farms and never ending agitation by labourers for higher wages on the face of thinning revenues, the most critical question facing Kenya’s economy is how soon will the tea industry’s growth model run out of steam?

More important than the actual timing, however, is the nature and repercussions of the current crisis in which the industry finds itself. The catastrophe encapsulates Kenya’s struggle to realise its agricultural potential.

It is a story of powerful unions and political inertia – a stark example of self-destruction. Connected to these economic and social contradictions, that include a huge number of unskilled labourers demanding exorbitant pay and luxurious lifestyles that government public service offerings can’t sustain, is a widening opposition to mechanisation of farms by the workers’ unions, underscoring the unsustainability of the current path of production in the tea sector.

It started sometime in 2006 after tea producers were allowed by the government to import tea-plucking machines on a trial basis against the wishes of labourers who pick tea leaves and throw them over their shoulder into back packs.

It is estimated that large tea estates directly employ about 80,000 workers while another 1.5 million rely on them indirectly, and after realising the machines are effective and contribute in cutting production costs, tea estates changed their preference to plucking machines.

Tea pickers felt that their jobs were threatened, precipitating the now endless industrial action and demands for higher wages that are captured on collective bargain agreements that the workers’ union greedily revises on an annual basis.

A strike by the tea pickers in October last year rekindled large-scale tea growers’ plans to replace humans with plucking machines, threatening jobs in an economy that’s struggling to create employment.

The strike, which started on October 17 last year was declared illegal by the Labour court, but the workers persisted.

Negotiations held between their union and Kenya Tea Growers’ Association (KTGA) yielded no fruit, with the former demanding that a 2014/2015 CBA in which the workers demanded a 75 per cent wage increment be implemented.

The union also wanted KTGA to start negotiations for the 2016/2017 CBA.

Companies including Unilever Tea Kenya, which produces the Lipton brand, Williamson Tea Kenya and James Finlay are estimated to have lost more than Sh400 million of output during the workers’ strike that lasted three weeks, according to the KTGA.


Yet, there are other compelling statistics. The break-even price per kilogramme of tea is $1.80 (Sh185) according to the East African Tea Trade Association, which conducts the world’s biggest black-tea auction at the Mombasa port.

The average sale of the same this week was $2.7 (Sh278). Experts estimate that if the pressure continues, in 15 years there will be no tea operator in Kenya.

But the damage is not limited to big companies. The status quo is threatening to vanquish smallholder farmers too.

In June 2016, tea farmers in Nandi County vowed not to implement a 30 per cent salary increment awarded to tea pickers by the Employment and Labour Relation court.

The over 11,000 farmers threatened to uproot their tea bushes, arguing the hike in salaries would drive up operating costs.

The court had directed that workers allied to the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union and KTGA get the pay rise as part of a collective bargaining agreement.

The farmers argued that out of the cash they receive from selling tea, close to 75 per cent goes towards paying workers.

Though workers have a fundamental right to strike and protest, the truth of the matter is that large tea estates are privately owned and the owners have the right to decide how they want to run their business.

By deciding to use plucking machines instead of human labour, the large-scale tea estates were looking at efficiency and the need to reduce production costs to compete with tea produced in other parts of the globe.

In order to avoid looming disaster, the current economic consensus suggests that investors in the tea industry, including large industrial producers, farmers and tea pickers, need to rebalance their shares of investment and consumption and move away from the current brand of agitation that threatens to stifle production.

There is need to move away from an eco-system that is dangerously reliant on CBAs that are renegotiated on a yearly basis, characterised by demands for extreme wage hikes, frequent industrial action and opposition to mechanisation.

It is also important to note that mechanisation is a key ingredient of industrial revolution, which Kenya needs in order to achieve Vision 2030.

Agriculture accounts for a quarter of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product and that Kenya’s status as the world’s biggest exporter of black tea needs to be safeguarded.

Prison excels in crop and animal husbandry

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Nestled deep in the heart of Trans Mara in Narok County is a correctional facility which is barely six years old.

Government of Kenya Kilgoris Prison is located at Mutenkuar trading centre, a 20-minute drive from Kilgoris town, the sub-county’s administrative headquarters.

Unlike other correctional facilities, the prison is slowly gaining reputation for its mass food production.

It sits on a 25-acre piece of land which the authorities have striven to optimise its production potential.

If you visit its vast farms on any particular day, you are bound to meet Jacob Shapaya, the lock-up’s farm manager doing his rounds.

On Thursday this week, the farm was particularly a beehive of activity, being the peak of the second harvest season in Trans Mara.

An old microvan filled with produce made trips from the farm to the store, driving through maize and vegetable farms.
Mr Shapaya who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aquatic Science and Fisheries from Moi University said the prison is able to cater for most of its internal food requirements.

He said that readily available labour from the inmates is utilised to cultivate maize, kales, tomatoes, potatoes and water melons which are then fed to the prisoners.

“Foodwise, we are secure because the annual maize yield is sufficient to feed our 400 prisoners and sometimes there is a surplus,” said Mr Shapaya, adding that they produce between 20 to 25 sacks of maize per acre in every harvest.

The prison’s officer-in-charge Kennedy Locho said that if and whenever the prison department gives them the nod, they usually sell the surplus produce, thus generating revenue for the department.

He said that besides engaging the inmates, farm work equips them with crop and animal husbandry skills which would become their lifeline when they finish their term.

“Some people serve time because of stealing, but when they come here they are taught new farming techniques which guarantees them financial and economic independence when they leave here,” said Mr Locho, adding that food self-sufficiency is all the more necessary in the face of an increase in prison population.

Statistics show that there were about 55,000 prisoners held in 118 government facilities countrywide in 2015, and this keeps on increasing as more convicts are put behind bars each year.

Mr Shapaya said that challenges such as pests, diseases and the lack of farm machinery negatively impacts on their productivity


‘We also rear dairy cows whose dung we use to make organic fertiliser which acts as a good alternative to purchasing expensive chemical fertilisers which otherwise leave the soil poorer in the long run,’ said Mr Shapaya.

To make the fertiliser, the pile method is used. A shallow trench is dug under a tree shade within the garden, enough to bury the plant and animal matter.

Inmates carry bags of harvested maize in the facility's farm.Inmates carry bags of harvested maize in the facility’s farm. Labour from the inmates is utilised to cultivate maize, kales, tomatoes, potatoes and water melons which are then fed to the prisoners. PHOTO | JOEL REYIA | NMG

Successive layers of maize cobs or maize stalks and cow dung, each of them sprinkled with water to make them moist, are laid on the trench. A layer of ash to regulate the PH is laid on top before it is completely covered.

Mr Shapaya said that the crop and animal residues are left to decompose for three to four months after which they are ready for use.

He said they have also introduced crop rotation to maintain soil fertility.  

The penal institution keeps about 15 exotic breeds of cows, mainly Friesian and Ayrshire, which supplies the necessary milk for tea-making.

The animals are healthy and sleek as they have plenty of natural pasture and napier grass to feed on, and are routinely dipped and vaccinated against diseases.

This has made the penal institution’s farm a demonstration farm of sorts as the neighbouring Maasai people who mainly keep indigenous breeds of cows frequently come to learn modern livestock husbandry practices.

Mr Shapaya said that the pastoralists are often eager to have their small East African Zebu heifers crossed with the improved Friesian bulls so as to get improved breeds.

‘Usually we inspect the heifer very carefully to make certain that it is healthy and free of disease vectors before we allow it to mate with our bulls,’ said Mr Shapaya.

Mr Locho said that since this is done for free, it has improved the relations between the facility and the neighbouring community which often quickly alerts the prison guards in case a prisoner escapes.

He said an irrigation network in the pipeline would enable them to start producing food all-year round and reduce their dependence on rain-fed agriculture.

“Last year, we drilled a borehole and this is going to help us pump water to the farms to irrigate them. In addition, we have constructed a fish pond and will soon buy fingerlings to start rearing fish,” said Mr Shapaya.

Vet on Call: How to ensure you get right price for your cow

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I meant to create awareness among cattle farmers that white cows lacking pigmentation in the eyes and the vulva areas are likely to develop cancer in those areas if exposed continuously to direct sunlight.

The article raised a lot of interest in farmers and three of them enquired if they should sell all their white cows for slaughter despite being high milk yielders.

It is worth noting that not all white cows lack pigment or colour around the eyes and the vulva. Some cows will be white but with dark pigmentation.

For those farmers with cows lacking pigmentation, the best thing is to protect the animals from direct sunlight and also breed them with semen from bulls with good pigmentation.

You may only sell off the animals if stricken by cancer that cannot be surgically removed by a veterinary doctor.

Let us now revisit the case of Nyamweru, the cow that I recommended to be sold for slaughter due to vulva cancer.

Jane, Patrick’s farm manager, successfully sold the cow for slaughter to a local butcher but with a lot of drama.

The cow was in good body condition and the butchers could not resist the high quality meat envisaged from the animal’s well-rounded body.

They also knew the meat was likely to be soft and very appealing to their customers since Nyamweru was zero-grazed all her life and she was a fairly young cow at about 5 years.

You see, butchers are real good businessmen who will make all attempts to get the lowest price for the best animal. In my experience, they use all manner of excuses to downgrade the carcass quality and justify very low price offers.

I mentally laughed one time when I heard a butcher tell a farmer, “You know mama, you have milked this cow for the whole year. That milking causes muscle loss in the animal which will only be evident once we hang the carcass on the scale.”

Another butcher also told a farmer in my presence that dairy cows look very good and large but they are very light.


“They are just like cotton with a lot of volume and very little weight,” he had stated for effect.

All these claims by butchers have no basis. Farmers can counter the arguments by using scientifically proven methods to fairly accurately determine the weight of their animals before offering them for sale.

In Nyamweru’s case, the first interested buyer made an offer of Sh30,000 claiming the animal had very low weight because, according to him, it is a characteristic of zero-grazed dairy cattle.

A second butcher offered Sh40,000 shillings saying the cow was already sick and he could not know how widespread the cancer was. Jane quickly countered that by referring him to me for an expert explanation.

I confirmed to him the cancer was only in the affected tissue since it was in the early stages. In addition, I told him Patrick’s farm carried out fair business and if on slaughter the carcass was condemned, the farm would refund all his money.

I had assisted Jane to estimate the live weight of the animal at 447 kg and expected meat yield of 246kg. With those figures, the cow would sell for approximately Sh61,000 and still be profitable to the butcher.

This calculation had taken into account that the butcher would also sell the skin, the internal organs, the head and hooves and add a mark-up on the meat.

Scientifically, it is estimated that a cow once slaughtered produces meat on bone, called the dressed carcass weight, of 50 to 55 per cent of the live weight.

To allow for negotiation, Jane put an asking price of Sh65,000 on Nyamweru.

The butchers did their negotiation dance of phone calls and visits to view the animal for about four days. Eventually Jane settled for Sh55,000 because it was the closest she could get to the target price of Sh61,000. “Well, in business, you lose some you win some,” she told me as she confirmed she had settled on the sale price.

So, how can farmers fairly accurately estimate the weight of animals for sale and negotiate good prices for their animals when selling for slaughter?

The answer lies in good estimation of the live weight of the animal. There is nothing like animals indicating a big volume and low weight; simply because a big volume requires strong muscles to support it. The strong muscles mean big weight.


The most accurate way of determining the weight of an animal is the weighing scale from which the weight is just read off.

However, the equipment is expensive and suited for farms with large numbers of animals. Further, the scales are cumbersome to use because for cattle, they are fixed in one place and the animals have to be driven to the scale.

On the other hand, visual estimation is the most inaccurate weight estimation method. Research shows that even experienced farmers and livestock traders will underestimate the animals’ weight 80 per cent of the times.

This is the method preferred by butchers, obviously to their advantage. Unfortunately, many farmers will either trust butchers for their experience or believe them anyway because they need to sell the cow before it deteriorates and they lose everything.

In Nyamweru’s case, I used a weighing tape to estimate the weight. The tape has a fairly good accuracy in estimating the weight of cattle to within 10 per cent of the animal’s real live weight.

Although there are other techniques of weight estimation, I recommend the use of the weighing tape in cases where farmers do not have access to a weighing scale.

The marginal error in weight that may occur when using the tape is compensated for by the value of the skin and edible non meat components of the carcass since they are not factored in estimating the dressed carcass weight.

These are called “offals” and include the edible internal organs, head and hooves.

To estimate the weight using the weighing tape, the farmer should wrap the tape around the animal’s chest from the top of the shoulders, called withers, and pass it just behind the elbows.

Make sure that the cow is calm and stands with the head facing straight to the front because the chest expands when the head is down. The tape should also lie flat in full contact with the skin.


The farmer should then read off the weight in kilograms from the tape. The reading in centimetres or inches is called the “heart girth”.

Where the farmer has a weight chart, they can read off the weight from the chart by comparing the reading in centimetres to the weight on the chart.

Farmers should get tapes that are calibrated in both centimetres and weight in kilograms so that they can easily read the weight off the tape.

While using the tape, it is important to ensure that one has the tape for the correct animals since there are different tapes for the various species such as cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Some tapes are even specific for cattle breeds and ages.

Weighing tapes are available in agrovet shops. A farmer should practice the use of the tape before using it and seek assistance from their veterinary service providers in case of any difficulties.

To improve the accuracy of weight estimation using the tape, the farmer should always request the butcher to provide them with the actual carcass yields of animals weighed using the tape.

Farmers should also acquaint themselves with the meat prices on the market so that they can be able to calculate the monetary value of their live animals in order to fix the price.

Veterinary service providers are in a better position to advice the farmers on the meat prices in their area of operation. Farmers should consult them before setting the prices on animals being sold for slaughter.

New technique boosting rice production in Mwea

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Paddies on either side of the road stretch as far as the eye can see as you enter Mwea Constituency in Kirinyaga County.

Rice is the primary source of livelihood in the region with the Basmati 370 being the most widely cultivated variety.

For a long time, 40-year-old John Gakuya Nyamu, one of the farmers at the 22,000-acre Mwea Irrigation Scheme has exclusively depended on the crop.

The farming engagement provided just enough to ensure his family is well-provided for with no additional profits.
“From the two leased paddies that I farm, I used to get about 20 bags of rice. While it was enough to cater for my family, I did not realise I could earn much more,” says Nyamu.

Luckily for Nyamu and other farmers, things have changed for the better.

Today innovative technologies have been introduced that have seen an increase in rice production and a drop in production costs.

This has been made possible through a collaboration between the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), which brought in stakeholders like Mwea Irrigation Agricultural Development (MIAD), the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), National Irrigation Board (NIB) and several universities both in Kenya and in Japan, among other backers.

Through the partnership’s programme, Science and Technology Research for Sustainable Development (SATREPS)project, key constraints that hinder effective cultivation of rice in the country were identified and efforts to alleviate them effected.

“Cold weather, rice blast disease, drought and water saving inadequacies, and low fertility and soil salinity were identified as factors that have been constraining the crop’s effective cultivation in various regions countrywide,” says Dr Daigo Makihara the lead researcher in the programme and associate professor at the International Cooperation Centre for Agricultural Education at Nagoya University in Japan.

He notes that efforts are underway to curb these challenges by developing rice varieties that are robust and resilient, and adaptable for wide-ranging ecological settings.

He said this is possible through advancement of technological innovations and resourceful yet sustainable ways to cultivate the crop

Dr Makihara says technologies such as molecular breeding of rice and DNA-marker assisted selection are currently applied in the programme at Kalro in Mwea to come up with rice varieties that carry suitable genes to overcome stress conditions in different geographical and ecological settings in the country.

And in reiteration of the importance of rice as a top food security crop and encouraging its cultivation, Dr John Kimani the managing director of Kalro-Mwea says up to 16 new rice varieties have so far been developed for varied environments in the country; for both uplands and irrigated conditions.

But water has proven to be the most serious challenge for farmers at the scheme.

Jica’s Rice-based and Market-oriented Agriculture Promotion Project (RiceMAPP) has strove to alleviate these challenges through its innovative concepts.

Workers hand-level a paddy ready for planting at the vast Mwea Irrigation Scheme in Kirinyaga.Workers hand-level a paddy ready for planting at the vast Mwea Irrigation Scheme in Kirinyaga. Hand-leveling results in successful transplanting and easy water management in the paddy. PHOTO | BRIAN OKINDA| NMG

“For a long time, there have been water related conflicts in the scheme but the situation is now better,” says David Njogu, a former RiceMAPP project manager at Mwea. His view was echoed by John Ndegwa, a rice farmer in the scheme. 

Ndegwa says his production has now increased hence his profits and savings have improved. He says conflicts with other farmers have gone down and expenses involved in the crop’s production have decreased.

“Through the water saving rice culture, I now harvest up to 30, 100-kilo bags from one paddy from my initial 13 to 19 bags, while my water usage has gone down too,” he says.

The RiceMAPP project involves use of rice production knowledge and technologies to promote income sustainability of the farmers and water management in rice farming is one of its key components.

“By following the five principles of RiceMAPP’s water saving rice culture and using improved, certified and recommended seeds, higher production even from a single paddy is guaranteed,” says Wilson Oyange, RiceMAPP’s current project manager at MIAD. He says through it, a farmer can earn up to Sh400,000 in six months from one paddy.

This involves hand levelling of the paddy resulting in successful transplanting and easy water management and using healthy seedlings which should be pre-germinated by socking in water for 24 hours then incubated for 48 hours to attain higher and even germination rate.


Line planting is the third principle with the recommended spacing of 30cm by 15cm rather than randomly planting the rice seedlings.

This is followed by improved weeding using a push-pull weeder which is more effective and requires less manpower compared to manual weeding and intermittent irrigation which involves supplying only the required amount of water whenever it is required and not flooding the paddy.

“Intermittent irrigation involves alternatingly flooding the paddy for three days and leaving it unflooded for three days, each 10 days, repeatedly for 30 to 45 days until the rice starts to flower. This facilitates oxygen absorption into the soil as well as saving water,” says Vincent Koskei, NIB’s research officer at the Wang’uru Station.

Koskei says adhering to these principles as well as proper crop management practices and using the right nutrients such as potassium-based fertilisers will boost a farmer’s chances of attaining maximum rice production, and earning profits even from the second rice crop that is allowed to grow after harvesting the main crop, commonly called rice ratoon crop.

He adds that use of machinery in harvesting and processing the crop is equally important rather than the manual harvesting as it averts loss and wastage of the harvest, saying using paddy reapers and threshers, and combine harvesters ensures effective rice harvesting.

“Challenges such as weeds like echinochloa crus-galli, sages and nylon grass, the highly destructive rice blast disease, water shortage and migratory birds, among others, have always been obstacles affecting rice production,” he notes.

But the NIB and its partners have put measures in place to ease these challenges with the anticipated construction of the Thiba Dam set to fully end the water shortage situation at Mwea and boost its production as well as increasing the acreage of the scheme to accommodate more farmers.

Engineer Yunoki Yuji, the project’s consultant says on completion of the dam, the scheme’s rice production is expected to double from the current 60,000 tonnes to 120,000 tonnes and accommodate even more farmers.

Diary of a poultry farmer: My search for dwarfs bears fruit

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On this day, when I got to my farm, the first thing I did was to ask Okello, the farm manager, for his opinion on something that had been on my mind for a couple of days.

If you’re a regular reader of this diary, you probably met Okello two-years ago when he was the manager at my fledging farming enterprise in Busia which I ran mostly as a shtick on telephone (SoG March 5, 2016).

Fast forward to last December. Okello replaced Caleb, the accountant I’d hired on temporary terms to help set up a basic poultry book- keeping system. 

You’re also aware that in the last three months, I started stocking indigenous chickens with special features. In fact, I now have most of these special breeds except one which is the subject of today’s piece.

I now keep the frizzles (SoG Dec 2, 2017), naked-necks (SoG Dec 23, 2017), feathered-shanks (SoG Jan 20), five-toes (SoG Jan 13) and crests.

My latest catch is the dwarfed kienyeji chicken (If you know the local names of any of these birds listed in the table, please share with me).

Dwarfism is an inherited condition found in chickens with a significant delayed growth that results in adults with a distinctive small size in comparison with the same breed of the same age.

I was delighted to know that I could get these miniatures in Makueni County. 

I won’t bore you with details of what the chicken was up to for three weeks before it finally crossed the road, but since it’s a long journey, I’ll need your company.

After doing 150 kilometres from Nairobi, I branched off Nairobi-Mombasa highway at a place known as Masimba on the left. I then drove for five kilometres, or so, on a dusty stretch and came across the Muooni river (I am sorry if your idea of a river is a water basin; instead, it was a dry sandy river bed).

I went uphill past the famous Ndunguni village and, finally, reached the picturesque Ithumba hills. I’d arrived at the home of dwarfs (they are called kamanda in Kamba language).  

When I saw these birds, I thought to myself, “Wow, these must be the dwarfs I’ve been looking for!” But then, although they looked rather small for their age, I couldn’t be 100 per cent sure.


“Wait a minute,” I asked the seller. “How sure are you that these are dwarfs and not normal chickens that are still growing up?”

You see, for the last three years or so, I’ve mainly been keeping improved indigenous chickens. If you feed improved birds well and keep them healthy, they tend to grow faster than ordinary kienyeji chicken. In fact, by 18 weeks, my improved cocks and hens weigh at least 1.5 and 1.8 kilos (SoG Oct 28, 2017).

Therefore, the first thing I did when I got back to Nairobi was to seek the opinion of my worker who has more experience with the ‘original’ kienyeji chickens. “Do you think these are dwarfed chickens?” I enquired as I pointed to the two pullets with black and brown plumage.

Tabulation of local names for indigenous chicken with special features.Tabulation of local names for indigenous chicken with special features. PHOTO | COURTESY

He looked closer. “It’s difficult to tell at this age!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, obviously disappointed.

“You just can’t tell a dwarfed chicken from a normal one unless you know their exact age,” Okello reasoned.

I did some reading and found that he was right. You see, experts agree that signs of dwarfism cannot be detected in the first few weeks.

“Differences in size due to dwarfism appear slowly and progressively as the birds mature,” one poultry breeder intimated. “Dwarfs are distinguished from normal birds by their short shanks and small body size”.

She also told me that depending on the breed, dwarfism in chickens begins to be recognised when the birds reach eight to 10 weeks of age.

As a matter of fact, the experts say that classification is more precise when the chickens are five months old or more.

“At this point, differences between normal chicken and dwarfs is obvious in all males and 98 per cent of the females.”
The good news is that despite their tiny size, dwarfs reach sexual maturity and reproduce just like other chickens.

Another thing is that they require less food and space meaning that you can rear many in a small house. I also read that they are tolerant to heat. 

For now, because I can’t tell the exact age of the miniatures, you’ll have to wait a little longer to know if they are true dwarfs. Trust me, I’ll keep you posted.

New technology to enable farmers access finances

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Three major organisations have partnered to roll out a farming technology aimed at revolutionising farming among smallholder farmers across the country.

Mercy Corps, MasterCard Foundation, and Safaricom have introduced DigiFarm, a mobile phone platform which enables farmers access variety of services including farm inputs, agricultural information, financial access while enabling them to find buyers for their produce.

The platform which was introduced four months ago is currently being piloted in four counties. 

Leesa Shrader, programme director at Mercy Corps’ Agrifin Accelerate said DigiFarm is a digital platform that collects data from farmers, for instance, the size of one’s farm, the crops grown, how much he has saved on mobile money service after which it uses the data to create a profile for the farmer.

“When a farmers on the DigiFarm platform applies for a loan they receive feedback within three minutes telling them how much they can access. The farmers can then use the loan to buy afordable and high quality inputs. Buyers are available on the platform,” said Ms Shrader, adding this year they are hoping to get to more than 10 counties.

Mercy Corps’ Agrifin Accelerate programme is a US$25 million three-country, six-year initiative supported by the Mastercard Foundation.

It is expected to benefit one million smallholder farmers across Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia by helping to close the gap in access to financial, informational and market services.

Speaking during Agrifin Accelerate program in Nairobi this week,Ms Shrader said: “In Kenya, our 2017 study of smallholders found that over 90 per cent use mobile phones to access financial services and information regardless of education, gender or age and the use of smart phones is on the rise.”

Solar-powered milk cooler cuts losses

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Makutano located on Eldoret-Lodwar road is a sprawling town in West Pokot County. It is here that we meet Selina Chepkoech who usually travels several kilometres to take her milk to the nearest cooling plant.

Just like many dairy farmers in the region, Selina is forced to use donkeys to ferry the produce and most of it ends up going bad along the way due to poor roads.

“I lose 1,200 litres of milk because of poor roads.  We have been forced to hire tractors to transport our milk to the cooling plant but the tractors are not of much help because of the poor state of the roads,” says the farmer.

It is this challenge that turned 29-year-old, Percy Lemtukei into an innovator. On seeing the problems people of West Pokot were facing, Lemtukei came up with a milk cooler.

The informatics graduate from Rongo University together with Emmastella Wangui, a communication and media studies graduate, developed a cooler and attached as a system which they hope will help cut losses.

He said most farmers in the county were making losses due to milk going bad and other challenges related to record keeping in various milk buying cooperative societies.

“These losses are a blow to farmers and there was a need for cooling on transit as huge segment of the dairy farmers can hardly afford standard milk cans,” said Lemtukei.

He says he studied this problem and came up with a technology that will ease their burden.

“There is a problem in maintaining milk quality especially in transit. Again, accountability is key in increasing farmers’ confidence. Strategic planning was another need at both the farmer and milk buying cooperative society level,” he says.

Our invention uses aluminium tanks act as cooling system which is connected to a solar panel. It also has a milk PH test kit, an automatic weighing scale and a customised dairy co-operative management system (application) called Maziwa Plus.

The machine allows farmer to keep milk for maximum of three days without going bad and he has patented the innovation.

Maziwa Plus links the machine and the cooperative society. The app automatically collects milk quality and quantity data and relays it to the cooperative’s payroll after computing the monthly total collections and relays the same information to the farmer through SMS.


The message will contain farmers collection for that day, sum total collection for that month and equivalent pay converted using the current rate and an advance or loan that the farmer qualifies for. In case of milk spoilage, the app will automatically inform the farmer the reason for milk rejection.

He says the programming skills which he acquired at the university assisted him to develop the technology last year.  
“We make all the components of the system, from fabrications to the circuit board, the softwares and the cooling systems,” says Lemtukei.

He says that from the farm, the milk goes through a series of quality and quantity checks and the data is automatically fed into the Maziwa Plus app which then processes and routes the data to a cooling plant’s database and an electronic receipt send to the farmers’ mobile phone.

“Milk that fails the test is auto-rejected and the farmer notified via SMS. Best quality milk is then emptied to the cooling tank which maintains a temperature of four degrees Celsius on transit to the main cooling plant. This milk carriers are designed for both motorcycles and donkey carts, “he says.

The two friends founded Savanna Circuit, an innovation and technology company which interested companies can either invest, partner or buy their products.

Wangui has a background in communication development with entrepreneurial and management skills and is currently a beneficiary of women in technology incubation program in Strathmore University where Maziwa Plus review and development is taking place.

“As at now, Milk-Plus is on a two months pilot test and so far it has passed all requirements. We discovered that lots of milk spoilage occurs where farmers take longer time to deliver it to collection points,” says Lemtukei.

Pokot South agricultural officer Fredrick Munoko says that the technology is good as it will help to preserve milk.  
“With this technology, dairy farmers will not lose their milk. More farmers need to adopt it,” he says.

Discover challenges and opportunities in fish farming

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Fish farming is characterised by small ponds, subsistence-level management, and very low levels of production.

However, in the midst of declining capture from wild inland and marine fisheries owing to effects of over harvesting, pollution of water by human activities, and reducing water levels coupled with increased consumption caused by changing eating habits, aquaculture remains a viable option to improve fish production in the country. 

A recent study in one of the counties aimed at finding out the opportunities in the fish value chain listed five main challenges, namely, low production/productivity, limited supply of fingerlings, limited value addition, limited quality feeds and limited market access.

Low production/productivity

The production in the study area was as low as 0.36 kilogrammes per square metre among smallholder producers compared to the potential of 0.50 – 0.70 kilogrammes/m2.

The mostly practised poly-culture (more than one species) of tilapia with African catfish and mixed sex culture system of farming results in low pond productivity. 

To overcome the challenge of mixed sex, farmers are encouraged to practice mono-sex culture to support productivity. 

In the latter, one fish gender is introduced into a pond. In tilapia, the male gender is highly recommended due to its fast growth rate reaching table size requirements between six and eight months.

Another advantage of the mono-sex is that the number of fish remains constant unlike in the mixed sex status where the fish continue to multiply making it difficult for one to estimate the amount of required feed.

Catfish has an advantage in that it rarely multiplies in captivity and there the number introduced into a pond is likely to remain constant.

The above measures have to be combined with good agricultural practices (GAP) that include supply of quality water, fingerlings and feeds plus control of predators.

Production in a given area can be boosted by exploiting the numerous aquatic resources with potential for aquaculture. These include the freshwater lakes, rivers, swamps, dams and other wetlands.

This is made possible by introduction of technologies such as the cage fish farming that allows one to introduce floating kind of specialised ponds in a water body.

Limited supply of fingerlings

The fast growing number of smallholder fish farmers requires dependable, affordable, and adequate supply of fingerlings.

To address the issue of fingerlings, the farmers are advised to form cooperatives that will establish a dedicated fingerling production system by building the capacity of selected producer groups to start and manage open pond hatcheries to enhance the production of quality fingerlings. 

The system will involve properly constructed and well managed ponds with the sole purpose of producing fingerlings for sale or restocking into grow out ponds within the same area and beyond. 

Cooperatives will thus address the issues of economies of scale whereby one smallholder farmer is unlikely to support a growing market.

Further, the cooperative will link the farmers to appropriate sources of fund to acquire necessary tools and equipment including nets as well as proper transport system to facilitate delivery of the fish to the farms. 

In addition, the cooperative will visit the farmers frequently to monitor the production process and verify the quality of fingerlings produced and sold to the farmers. 

Limited value addition/processing

Most of the smallholder farmers sell dressed fish within the local market. This indicates a relatively poor level of processing standards, quality, presentation and packaging.

A significant improvement in these standards would suggest that substantially higher returns can be achieved to the benefit of processors as well as fishermen through creating marketing strength and at the same time building customer recognition and consumer confidence in the product.

Processing of dressed fish into higher value products such as fillet allows the investor to access higher value markets and reduce losses experienced post-harvest and generate more returns from the investment.

Limited quality feeds
Feeds constitute up to 40 – 50 per cent of total production costs and are responsible for the high production costs incurred by the farmers.

Therefore, to improve the profitability and viability of the aquaculture industry, it is necessary to ensure that farmers have access to quality feeds that are formulated to standardized specifications of the reared fish at its various development stages.

To address the issue of fish feeds, smallholder farmers are advised to consult their local extension officers of how to produce home-made rations for their fish from locally available materials.

They can also introduce cheaper but effective feeds such as biogas slurry. 

Limited market access

The study recommended the formation of a cooperative that can source for local and external market. The local market is still unsaturated with fish consumption being about 4.5kg/capita/year as compared to the global average of about 20 Kg/capita/year. 

Global Tea and Commodities tops list of leaves buyers

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Giant tea producer and supplier, Global Tea & Commodities, is now the biggest buyer of the leaves in the world.

In recent statistics released by Tea Brokers East Africa that detailed the tea auction activities in Mombasa by December 2017, Global Tea & Commodities accounted for the lions share of purchases at the 2017 Mombasa Tea Auction, becoming the biggest buyer in the world.

The company purchased 59,883,763 kilogrammes which represented 16 per cent of Africa’s tea in 2017. It was a 2.8 million kilogramme increase after it purchased 51,593,741kg in 2016

The company which owns popular brands, Kericho Gold and Baraka Chai, inched past Cargill, which represents Unilever.
Unilever has consistently been the biggest buyer at the auction for more than 25 years.

Global Tea purchased 59.89 million kilogrammes of tea in 2017, a sharp rise from 51.6 million in 2016.

Unilever came second with 59.1 million kilogrammes in 2017, a drop from 62.3 million kilogrammes in the previous year. LAB International was third with 31.8 million and Chai Trading, an arm of Kenya Tea Development Agency came in the fourth position with 31.4 million.

Global Tea Managing Director, Fahim Ahmed, attributed the growth to diversity of their products.

He said the achievement was out of the culture of “striving for success within the organisation.”

“Nothing succeeds like success. Global Tea is blessed with the most dynamic and committed team who have performed consistently over the last 25 years and still have an appetite for more and this is attribute to their dynamism and hard work,” he said.

Kericho Gold has captured the imagination of consumers in Kenya and the East African region due to its wide range of products.

The products include Functional teas in its health and wellness range, blends of teas and herbs in the speciality range and funky flavours.

Trendy tag lines on various tea flavours like “Set the Mood and Seize the Moment” for Love Tea and “Delete, Fast Forward …. Hit Play” for Hangover Tea, used on the packaging have attracted the millennials.

The recently Launched Pyramid Silken Bags brings exquisite teas from around the world for the first time to Kenya.

It has also grown in exports with Harrods, which is the most exclusive Store in the world, being its customer, as well as major Supermarket chains in Europe and Middle East.

Even with the brisk activity that was witnessed in 2017, it did not surpass the business witnessed in 2016.

Trade variance between 2017 and 2016 showed that last year purchase dropped by 10,295,795 representing -2.52 percent.